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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Voltaire (1694–1778)

How to Encourage Admirals

From “Candide

“AH! Pangloss, Pangloss! Ah! Martin, Martin! Ah! my dear Cunégonde! What kind of world is this?” said Candide, when he was safely on board the Dutch vessel.

“A very mad one, and altogether abominable,” answered Martin.

“You are acquainted with England. Are the people there as mad as in France?”

“Theirs is another sort of madness,” said Martin. “You know the two nations are at war about a few acres of snow in the region of Canada, and that they are spending on that war more than all Canada is worth. To tell you precisely whether there are more people who ought to be shut up as lunatics in one country than in another is beyond my feeble capacity; I only know that, as a general rule, the people whom we are about to visit are exceedingly morose.”

While conversing thus, they came in sight of Portsmouth; a multitude of people lined the shore, and had their gaze fixed attentively on a stout man, who was kneeling, with eyes blindfolded, on the deck of one of the men-of-war; four soldiers, stationed opposite this man, discharged three bullets each into his skull, in the calmest manner possible; and then all the crowd returned home, very well satisfied with what they had seen.

“What now is the meaning of all this?” said Candide, “and what demon holds sway everywhere?”

In answer to his inquiry, who that stout man was who had. just been put to death with so much ceremony, he was told that he was an admiral.

“And why do they kill an admiral?”

“Because,” said his informants, “he has not caused enough people to be slaughtered; he gave battle to a French admiral, and it has been found that he did not come to sufficiently close quarters.”

“But,” said Candide, “the French admiral must have been as far from the English admiral as he from the other!”

“That cannot be disputed,” was the reply; “but in this country it is thought a good thing to kill an admiral from time to time in order to encourage the rest.”